Sanctuary Within The Pages Of A Book

I’m fourteen and still spending time in the hallway of my residential unit almost every night, petrified and alone, waiting for the safety of morning to come so I can retreat back to my room and try to sleep.
I can’t leave the house very often, even if the logistics pan out for one of the workers to be able to take me, I still have an internal war waging that makes the process an ordeal.

I am scared, all the time. I am certain that every single person who glances at me as I’m walking down the street can tell I’m a resi kid, they can tell my tattered, over worn clothes had to come from a strangers washing line, because I couldn’t get my DHS worker to respond to my request for my $200 clothing allowance. The one pair of jeans I had left were so big they would fall down if I didn’t keep my hands in my pockets, holding them up.

I am on my fortnightly trip to the local library two suburbs over, the five-minute drive in the safety of the car passes too quickly and we’re in the busy car park and it’s time to get out. As soon as I open the door it feels like my safety bubble has popped, the outside world rushes in loud and bright, I scan around for any immediate danger but everything seems dangerous.

Every single person I see is a threat, I can feel them staring at me, I stick out and they know I don’t belong here. Making my way over to the doors of the library every sound in the car park signals danger, adrenaline pumping through my body I am ready to run or fight at a moments notice.

Inside the library there is less sound but the people seem noisier, they fill my head with a buzzing anxiety. I wonder if there’s a reason they’re all staring at me, maybe I’ve done something terrible and forgotten about it. Maybe there’s a manhunt and I’m a wanted person, do they all know? Are the police on their way and they are just trying to keep the appearance of being calm to keep me there until they arrive? Maybe that’s why it was so easy to get the worker to bring me here this time, they are all working together.

I scan the titles of the books as I walk down the isles of the library one by one, mostly interested in epic fantasy novels that will take me into a different world or gritty fiction that hurts my heart but makes me feel less alone.
I wonder if the police will check my library history when I’m arrested, am I accidentally setting myself up to look guilty by my choice in books to borrow? I start second guessing every book I am interested in picking up.

I can barely take in the titles of the books in front of me, I am so heightened and overwhelmed it’s hard to process the writing. Without realising it I find myself going through the motions of scanning the spines, not taking them in but just noticing the different colours and sizes of the books.

When I come back into focus I find myself in the fantasy and sci-fi section, just the place I want to be. Each book holds the promise of the perfect universe, the chance to escape for a little while into a journey where I am a character who has purpose and every catastrophe holds meaning. I am drawn to the largest books I can find and also to long series, I want to be immersed in this new universe for as long as possible.

I end up checking out a stack of 12 novels, comics and audio books, I’m surprised as I let out a laugh with the librarian about the possibility of me getting through this many books in a month. I don’t think she believes me as I tell her I can read a 500 page book in a day.

Making my way back to the car I am almost hugging my stack of books, clinging to my safety net, knowing that now I might be able to make it through the next two weeks.
I am already calmed with thoughts of which book I’m going to read first and wondering what adventures are waiting for me within the pages.

When I’m reading life drops away and I become the characters in the book, I am no longer laying in a bed with the other kids I live with banging on my door or yelling threats to kill me through the cracks in my window. I am on a quest to save the kingdom or trying to get through some fantastic ordeal.

Within the pages I find a rare comfort, a sense of peace I can find nowhere else. The outside world shuts off along with the painfully loud chatter of my mind. I am finally free, I have found sanctuary within the pages of a book.

Garbage Bags

The night my mother died I was placed with a foster carer about an hour out of Melbourne, Mums two bedroom flat chaotic with Paramedics, Police, DHS workers, people in suits and my mothers boyfriend bumping into each other. They were all trying their best not to look at the body or at the confused six year old sitting on the couch who had unknowingly just become an orphan.

I didn’t understand what was happening, my six year old brain couldn’t comprehend that Mum wouldn’t be ok in a few hours, all I knew was that I had to stay somewhere else again. In the chaos I was able to pack a change of clothes into a garbage bag but my toys had been locked in a toy chest by my mother a few days prior and no-one could locate the key.

It was almost pitch black as I lay on the lounge room couch at my new foster home, my surroundings completely alien. I didn’t know where I was, what the rules were or what was going to come next. My entire world was spinning and I didn’t have a single person or object to hold onto that felt familiar.
I was petrified and trying desperately to keep myself awake, my six year old brain unable to make sense of my mums death and so I thought if I fell asleep I wouldn’t wake up either.

What was meant to be an emergency overnight foster care placement turned into weeks and then months because there was nowhere else for me to go. My foster brother held a growing resentment for me invading his home and this showed itself in escalating violent threats and bullying tactics. He was trying his best to turn his mother against me and get me kicked out so he could have her and his home back to himself again.

After school one day the car ride home was so tense it felt like all the noise and air had been replaced with the ticking hands of my foster mothers watch, and the whiteness of her knuckles as they gripped the steering wheel.

In slow motion my foster mothers key turned in the front door and as it opened I saw black garbage bags stacked on the couch, my orange basket ball resting in the pile.
My foster mother let out an extended sigh as she made her way towards the kitchen “your worker is on their way to pick you up, they’ll be taking you to your new house” she hadn’t stopped walking to break the news to me “All your stuff is packed on the couch and ready to go as soon as they get here”. My eyes were instantly magnetised to my scuffed shoes, I hoped she wouldn’t look at me and see the tears welling up in my eyes or the black-hole painfully breaking apart my chest.

I was in another government sedan filled with that new car smell I had grown to distrust, all my worldly possessions stacked behind the cage in the boot in black garbage bags. Trees, power-lines and houses raced past the car window, each house that passed  felt like a countdown on a bomb, I was getting closer to my new placement with each one that disappeared from view.

Nights at the Resi unit

In 2007 I was living in a pretty stock standard residential unit, a purpose built house filled with locks and a pervasive sense of darkness.

To go to the bathroom I had to ask a staff member to unlock it, to get something to eat I had to ask a staff member to unlock the pantry, to get a cup of hot water for tea I had to ask a staff member to boil it in the office and supervise me putting it to use.

There wasn’t much choice, it felt like every single aspect of my life was restricted and controlled. As if I was in a prison for which my only crime was having parents who were terminally unable to look after themselves, let alone a child.

I felt trapped, isolated and hopeless to the absolute. I was thirteen turning fourteen, a kid who had been in the care system since they were just ten weeks old and who had been accumulating a collection of personal shame and responsibility from every single placement breakdown and trauma they had experienced.

After months of my mental health worsening to the point I would sit in the hallway overnight because the darkness held terrifying thoughts of people breaking in through my bedroom window. I was so hyper-vigilant and anxious that my brain started creating the sounds of them drilling into the window pane next to my head.
I was terrified, alone and dead sure that every night was the night the ghostly apparitions of my traumatised brain would finally solidify and become real enough to serve out the punishment I was due.

It got to a point one night where I was so utterly terrified that I knocked on the office door, seeking some kind of comfort and safety from the staff member working.
I felt like I knocked for hours, the fear came flooding through even stronger. What if my knocking was a signal to those outside the window to come and get me? What if they had already got the staff member and they would be the ones to open the door?
The staff member finally came to the door, her hair messy, eyes tired and face looking beyond irritated. “It’s 3am” I knew that, every second that passed during the night was like a day marked off the calendar, I knew exactly how long it was going to be before the sun rose again the next morning.

“I’m scared, I can’t sleep” I told her, hoping that somehow she might hold the answer to make it all stop, that she would help me make it through the night but instead her face grew more frustrated than it already was “I’m off shift at 11pm, there’s nothing I can do” “you need to go back to your room and try to get some sleep, morning staff will be here at 8am” she shut the door and I retreated back to the corner of the hallway where I could see both the front door and the door to my room. My back against the wall of the office closest to the staff member, this was as close as I could get to the comfort they could have provided.

The darkness felt even more solid than it had before, it felt like the single lifeline I had left had been snuffed out. I still had two and a bit hours of darkness to fight my way through until the sun finally started shining again and I had no idea how I was going to make it through. I was completely alone and isolated in my petrifying terror, I almost wanted them to just come in through the windows and get me so it would be over with already.